The times of Ireland’s ancient myth are those of heroes, villains and kings. Though there were many tribes that came into the island with tales that speak to kingship in Ireland, one of the most interesting segments is that of the tribe that would become known as the ancient Gods of Ireland. So stick around for a brief overview of the Kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann.
When the Tuatha Dé Danann took up their journey to return to their ancestors homeland they came as a great fleet of a thousand heroes. They were led in this trek by one said to be the noblest of them all and that was Nuada. Yet the homecoming was not without conflict as Ireland was under the rule of the Fir Bolg at the time. This conflict was called the First Battle on the plain of Moytura.
Though Nuada led his people to victory, taking up the rule of Irealnd, He was not the one to sit the throne as he had suffered a grievous loss of his arm in battle with Shreng, son of Slenga the Champion of the Fir Bolg.
This then made space for Bres son of Elotha.
As the son of both the Tuatha Dé Danann and a Fomorian father, It was believed that his kingship would bring stability. The Fomorians had forever been a threat to the tribes of Ireland and through Bres the people thought they could secure peaceful coexistence.
Instead Bres, for all of his beauty, did not bring them the stability and prosperity this newly arrived tribe needed. Instead he favoured his Fomorian lineage at the expense of his Tuatha Dé bloodlines. This led to vast taxation on the Tuatha Dé as all their wealth was gathered for the Fomorians. Also their heroes and champions were placed in menial and servile roles. The court of King Bres hosted none of the Tuatha Dé Danann nobles, musicians and bards. Were it not for his unbeatable status even Oghma, Champion of his people, would have been set aside.
In the end it was by Bres’ own misdeeds that his rule was ended. In passing false judgement against the Dagda he was shown as unjust, but it was not until his extremely poor treatment of the tuatha dé Danann bard Caipre, that his rule was also proved as having no hospitality.
Bres was deposed as King, yet his rancour would pave the way for yet another battle on the plains of Moytura.
After his debilitating injury at the first battle of Moytura, Nuada was treated by the medical abilities of Dian Cecht and the metallurgical skills of Credne. It was in this fashion that he gained a replacement limb and a new epithet, Argetlamh, the ‘Silver armed’.
It was said that all the form and function of his original arm was in the replacement, but though it was a wonder of both healing and craft, Nuada was still blemished by his wounding and could not rule.
It was by the unforeseen talents of Miach, son of Dian Cecht that restoration came. Through means previously unheard of this young medic removed Nuada’s blemish by restoring to him his fletch and blood arm, so it was as if no wounding had ever befallen him.
With Bres deposed for his unjust and inhospitable practices, the people looked again to Nuada for kingship. Yet the wise and noble leader knew that only conflict could come from Bres’ removal and so he stepped aside from the seat of the king when he met the one who could best lead the people.
The day that Lugh came to Tara is well known in the tales for it was not only the day that he showed them the many skills he brought with him, but it was also the day that he met the man who would make him king.
Nuada knew that conflict would come from the Fomorians and so when Lugh made his presence known, the wise leader saw a path to success for his people.
Lugh, known as the Ildanach was son of Cian, son of Dian Cecht, yet it was not just his fathers line and his many skills that made him a fit choice. It was also his mothers line as she was Ethne daughter of the Fomorian king Balor. In Lugh the people had another chance to find freedom from Fromorian oppression, only this time it would be in conflict.
Lugh successfully led the Tuatha Dé Danann in the second Battle upon the plains of Moytura and here he personally fulfilled the prophecy that Balor had long feared and had tried to prevent. His demise at the hand of his grandchild.
It is said that Lugh then ruled in Ireland for forty years until his demise. He was set upon by the three sons of Cermait, in vengeance for his slaying of their father. With many wounds upon him he fled into lough Lugborta and drowned. It is believed that his body was recovered and buried on the Hill of Uisneach.
After the reign of Lugh came the 80 years when the Dagda took on the rule of Ireland. Having come into the island with the first arrivals, The Dagda had long served his people in battle as well as in times of peace and prosperity.
During the first battle of Moytura he had led entire flanks of the conflict and displayed his personal power and fortitude. It was the Dagda who had rushed to the fallen Nuada’s aid and prevented the killing strike.
Under Bres, this powerful warrior, druid and hero was set to labour digging the trenches that would become Rath Bres at Tara. It was against the Dagda that Bres unjust judgement fell, showing him unfit for the seat of the king.
When the second battle of Moytura approached and all the powerful groups offered their powers and services to the conflict it was the Dagda that promised to take on all the promised labours and see them complete.
When Lugh’s time had passed Ireland became a place of great abundance and prosperity for everyone. It was the Dagda that set out portions of land and wealth that each of his tribe would rule over.
In some versions of the stories, the Dagda died after his eighty years from a wound he had taken in the second battle of Moytura over one hundred and twenty years previously. Yet in later stories when the Sons of Mil took Ireland, It was to the Dagda that they had to turn in friendship to secure abundance in Ireland.
Mac Cuill, Mac Cécht, and Mac Gréine
The last kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann were a trio who ruled the island in connection with its three Goddess of Sovereignty. Banba, Fotla and Eriu were wed to the three brothers, Mac Cuill, Mac Cécht, and Mac Gréine.
These three though initially went by other names. They were Éthur, Téthur, Céthur and they were the sons of Cermait, son of the Dagda. It was these three who had slain Lugh for the death he had given their father.
They ruled well and fairly, but it was against a much larger threat that their kingship came to an end. The Sons of Mil came in force to Ireland beginning their host in conquest. Though the three had initially tried for peace, then through guile set the the magic of the Tuatha Dé against the invaders, the dominant of the Milesians had already been secured by their File’s respectful approaches to the three Goddesses of Sovereignty.
The tuatha dé Danann finally lost the rule of Ireland and it was under the rule of these last three kings that their people followed Manannán Mac Lir into the hollow hills, or Sid and became the Aos Sidhe of the Otherworld.
Kingship in Ireland
The end of the kings of the Tuatha De Danann is not the end of Kingship in Ireland. In fact as we move through the timelines of old Irish lore, from the Mythological cycle to the most modern segment we find what is academically classified is called the Cycle of Kings.
Though much of this lore consists of annals and glossaries, we still find mentions of the kings of the Tuatha dé danann as even in mediaeval times Irish families traced their lineage back to these ancient and divine heroes.
In looking back at these ancient kings in Ireland we can see some very interesting traits when it comes to ruling. From the justice of kingly judgements, the necessity which is hospitality, the need for many skills given in service to the peoples of the land, and indeed even the blessing of the sovereign land itself. What it takes to be king is less a function of power and popularity and more about what is just, welcoming, considerate and balanced. It seems there is still a lot we can learn from the kings of the tuatha dé danann.
IRISH GODS RESOURCES
- Our Free Checklist of Trustworthy Sources has a whole section on the Gods! Get it HERE.
- Jon also writes stories reflecting his connection to the Great God, An Dagda Mór. Read them HERE.
- Take a Class on Meeting Irish Gods – Click Here for More Details.